Can you imagine the smell of the smoke that billowed up and across the West Texas sky after an estimated 18,000 dairy cattle were burned alive? I'm sure it was absolutely nauseating. The entire situation is nauseatingly sad. I am not coming from a place of judgment, but rather, concern. The recent explosion and fire in Dimmit, Texas is the deadliest barn fire involving cattle since records have been kept, and quite likely the worst ever.

Accidents can happen anywhere, from small local operations to massive complexes like this dairy. However, when you have this much livestock concentrated in such a small space, the magnitude of any accident will be exponentially worse. So what happened?

Certainly, there will be an investigation into exactly what happened because I suspect the insurance payout on this will be huge. However, there seems to be a consensus among sources that it was some type of equipment malfunction/ overheating that sparked methane gas (which cattle produce in abundance) that caused the explosion.

Photo by Austin Santaniello on Unsplash
Photo by Austin Santaniello on Unsplash

One Redditor from Dimmit relayed a pretty believable theory they received from an area farmer:

This accident happened in an enclosed free stall barn where the cows lay down in individual sand or compost filled bunks. These barns are called tunnel barns and help to keep the climate at the perfect temperature and conditions for the cows. Most likely, the initial equipment explosion caught the insulation on fire and the fans which constantly circulate fresh air through the barn, caused the fire to rapidly spread. Most likely the cows were immediately killed by the smoke before being burned

I suppose that some relief about the cows- I know I'd rather pass out from smoke inhalation than be burned alive. However, this Redditor brought up another sobering point: this fire also burned up dozens of jobs in an area that doesn't have a whole lot of other employment opportunities.

Even if you are blasé about the cow deaths, we still need to pause and consider how these massive events can cause so much more misery. For instance: how will this affect already sky-high grocery prices? Milk by the gallon, and even everything that contains milk as an ingredient? Will other dairies be able to produce enough to overcome this? 

I believe so, as there are nearly 10 million dairy cows in the U.S., but as we've all seen, food brands never miss the opportunity to profit from a disaster. Remember how eggs suddenly became $8 for a couple of months? Of course, that was a much larger scale problem, but we are lying to ourselves if we believed all eight of those dollars were truly the result of avian bird flu and not greed on the part of the suppliers,

I don't believe there are enough small, family operations to keep folks in all the milk they need, but I do believe there are enough for people who are willing to pay a little more or go to a specialty venue like a farmer's market or specialty grocer. I absolutely would never judge someone for getting milk when and where they can at a price they can afford. However, I think I know where I'll be getting mine this week.

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